Dog Days at Theatre503
Battersea’s bijou Theatre503 is a tireless champion of new writing, in this instance staging Annie Hulley’s debut play Dog Days – an increasingly dark tale of domesticity and the pleasures and perils of married life.
The set is a drab living room in which everything is yellow or orange. There are decorative plates on the walls, porcelain owls on the dresser and a standard lamp. It is middle England; the only thing missing is a copy of the Daily Mail.
Hulley creates two interesting characters in husband and wife John and Cate. John (Jonathan Oliver) is the breadwinner – he speaks his mind and is in charge of the sale of their house. Cate (Hulley) is more timid, she worries about the teaspoon stains in the sink and she drinks. They are a boring couple, which is certainly intentional, but it means there is not much to sympathise with. The other couple is Hayley (Lashana Lynch) and Tony (Peter Bramhill), young and brash, who want to buy John and Cate’s house.
All four characters are incredibly flawed and pretty dislikeable. They also conform to fairly conventional stereotypes: John the boring middle-aged man, Tony the self-made lad, Hayley the Hello! reading ditz and Cate the frustrated, menopausal housewife. But the cast portray them very well, especially Bramhill as Tony who conveys a dangerous, fiendish dark edge.
The way that Hulley presents these two clashing couples is effective; Hayley and Tony are so completely antithetical to John and Cate and this provides some great humour and plenty of tense moments. The clash is represented well in the design by Sophia Simensky, the oranges and yellows of John and Cate’s home offset the vibrant pinks and leopard prints that define Hayley and Tony.
What comes across strongly from the play is the resemblance to 90s domestic sitcoms, like Keeping Up Appearances or One Foot In the Grave – rather uninteresting characters placed in stressful situations, but always rooted around the mundanities of home life.
Eventually the play moves in a twisted, Tales of the Unexpected sort of dark direction as things unravel, and there are plenty of prolonged, uncomfortable moments along the way. Hulley always maintains a sense of humour too and even if the play suffers from its dull domestic setting at times, there is a great deal to be admired in her debut play.
Dog Days is at Theatre503 until 22nd March 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.